Hostile Environment: 10 Year Anniversary


During our first ‘Who is welcome’ event, Maya Goodfellow reminded us of a Stuart Hall quote that perfectly explores what is defined as “colonial amnesia”, which we will discuss in further detail below.


In 1948, the British nationality act gave British citizenship to all citizens of the colonies of the British empire. It is thought that this came into force in order to halt decolonisation efforts.

As decolonisation became a global phenomenon in the 1950s onwards, and many countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean declared independence from imperial powers, residents of these former colonies were encouraged to come to the U.K. and contribute to the work force, especially to take up jobs that white people did not want to do. (In fact, even during the 19th century, migrants formed a crucial part of the labour force in sectors considered undesirable).

Restriction, Deprivation and Terror

In 1962 and 1968, two Commonwealth Immigrant Acts were passed, and in 1971, an Immigration Act was passed. These all deliberately restricted the immigration of Black and Asian immigrants from formerly colonised countries, and hampered their right of abode. In 1981, the British Nationality Act introduced deprivation of citizenship on certain grounds.

As the decades went by, anti-immigrant rhetoric continued to target racialised communities.

9/11 ushered in the Islamophobic War On Terror. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act came into force in 2002, and widened deprivation of citizenship powers. These powers were also the subject of the 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act.

Hostile Environment and Legacy

In 2012, Theresa May announced her plans for the Hostile Environment: to create a living hell for undocumented migrants by restricting or denying their access to basic rights and public services through the threat of removal. Many have lived in fear of, or have been subjected to forced removal as a result of the hostile environment.

In 2014, the Immigration Act further codified hostility towards racialised and migratised communities, and is one of the main causes of the Windrush Scandal, showing Black British people that their belonging was always conditional. The Immigration Act of 2016 further extended surveillance against and restricted the rights of migratised communities.

We now find ourselves at yet another iteration of racialised violence, as the anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Act has become law.

Colonial Amnesia

What is colonial amnesia and how is it relevant to understanding the Hostile Environment? Since the 1960s, the laws in this country have increasingly become more and more hostile to migratised and racialised communities (those that were/are here or those who were/are yet to arrive), and the Hostile Environment is a continuation of this legacy.

Colonial amnesia disconnects the phenomenon of migration and contemporary movement from the conditions that have created it. Overcoming colonial amnesia is what allows us to understand that “there is no English history without that other history”. Overcoming colonial amnesia allows us to truly understand the popular saying: “we are here because you were there”.

A history of Britishness shows us that our country was built by migrants, particularly racialised migrants, who were encouraged to fight in the world wars, or assume jobs that white British people did not want to do. A holistic history of Britishness also shows us that many migratised communities in the U.K. are here because they have fled poverty, economic ruin, war or violence in their home country: conditions that are legacies of British colonialism and imperialism.

We can only stand in solidarity with migrants by accepting that our history is intrinsically tied up with that “other history”: the hostile history that we are encouraged to forget.

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